In 2014 I wrote a blog post that talked about how kids were bad for my marriage. You can read it in here:
I still get calls from people stating… “we had a great marriage, then we had our child and I don’t know what happened! We fight, we feel disconnected. Is this normal? Should we go to counseling?”
Yes and Maybe.
John and Julie Gottman talk about how the first year of a child’s life is very hard on marriages. Actually, they state that “67% of couples had become very unhappy with each other during the first three years of their baby’s life. Only 33% remained content.”
I agree with them as I see this over and over in my work with couples. Any transition period is hard on human beings. The birth or adoption of a child is hard on marriages. You stop being two and you become three. This third person is very much loved by both of you, yet he or she requires tons of energy…energy that before was going to just the two of you. Sounds simple? It is not.
For starters, there is the lack of sleep. And we all know what comes with lack of sleep: bad tempers, wrong decisions, and frustration. Add to this the anxiety that comes with having a newborn and being completely responsible for its life. When we are anxious, we are more prone to either withdraw or to fight.
So why is it important to consider going to counseling if this is a normal but difficult period of a couple’s life? Imagine that you developed a headache as you were reading this post. What would you do? Some people decide to wait and suffer the headache until it goes away, some take a medication, others worry about the reasons for the headache and take other measures to alleviate it (e.g. sleep, eat, rest). Some of you might even decide you have a brain tumor and are about to die (you know who you are), but I digress. I assume that you will do one of the first three things I listed. Each has benefits, but you don’t necessarily know which is best in a given situation. Personally, I usually try all three. I first wait a bit. Usually within 10 minutes I know if my headache is going to get better or if I need to do something else. Then I will try to think of the reasons I may have a headache and consider rest AND I will take medication.
This is what counseling would do for you. In therapy, we talk about the issues that brought you here but also about how to make things better. We decide that “waiting” indefinitely is not helpful and in some cases is actually too hurtful. You got married to feel connected to another human being. You got married to feel supported and loved and to give both of those back to your partner. Why should you wait indefinitely for those things to be present?
Now, my 10-minute wait time for a headache is not easily defined in a relationship. If you have not already tried to address the issues with your partner, then I suggest you sit down and talk. Be ready to listen also. Actually, listen more than you talk. Assume your partner has your best interests at heart. This is what you do when you are “waiting” to see if the headache can go away. I hope the conversation feels productive and helpful.
So when should you call a therapist? If any of the following have occurred, you may be ready to reach out for more help.
1. You have tried having a conversation and it goes nowhere. You are met with silence or it becomes a fight
2. You have talked, agreed about how to improve things with a timeline, but nothing changes
3. You feel overwhelmed about all the changes and your partner does not seem to hear you.
If you’re feeling discouraged, I want you to know that there is hope. Couples who engage in therapy with the sincere intention to make things better almost always find that their relationships improve in meaningful ways.
Sabrina Bowen, MS, LCMFT provides couple, family, and individual therapy in our downtown Bethesda office. She offers late afternoon and evening appointments and is currently accepting new clients. Call or email today to schedule your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation.